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Backyard chicken permits may be easier to come by in Hernando

County Commission considers dropping the neighbor-permission requirement.

SPRING HILL — Carol Aquilante has been wistfully visiting Rural King, looking again at the adorable baby farm animals.

The little webbed-footed ducklings are hard to resist, but what she really wants to see — and maybe take home — is the next crop of Rhode Island Red chicks. Aquilante was thrilled to learn last week that the Hernando County Commission is talking about making that easier.

Aquilante has experience in the world of backyard chickens.

She is the Spring Hill resident who pushed for a 2012 ordinance allowing residential neighborhoods to keep backyard chickens. She wanted chickens for their eggs, and others came forward to say that keeping chickens was both economical and a good teaching tool for children.

But proponents faced strong opposition from local realtors reeling from the collapse of the housing. Some feared that a county chicken ordinance would take precedence over homeowners association rules or that a backyard chicken policy would render local zoning rules moot.

Aquilante, dubbed Spring Hill’s “chicken lady” for a time, even tried to get letters of support from Michelle Obama and Martha Stewart. She fought through arguments about noise, nuisance and smell, and convinced county officials that — with the right safeguards — everyone could win.

Only hens are allowed, no roosters. The birds, four or less, must be kept in a coop in a rear yard, not visible from adjoining properties or the street. The area had to be kept clean and not create a nuisance.

Homeowners association rules prohibiting chickens would trump any permit an individual received from the county.

The ordinance passed in 2013, and Aquilante ran out to get four newly hatched Leghorn chicks. But several years and dozens of fresh eggs later, an elbow injury forced her to give up her feathered friends. Now healed from her injury, she called the county last week to see if she could renew her expired permit.

Or would she have to go through the whole process, again getting written permission from all adjacent property owners. She had no problem with that last time, but she is worried that a landlord of an adjacent rental property might be a hard sell.

Not 24 hours later, at their Sept. 24 meeting, county commissioners were discussing other changes to their special permits ordinance when Commissioner John Allocco brought up neighborhood chickens. It’s time to drop the requirement for written permission from neighbors, he said.

"There is no other permit that requires the permission of a neighbor,'' he said, adding that no one asks their neighbors for written permission to have a barking dog.

Commissioner Steve Champion agreed that the rule was "outrageous.'' Hernando County is considered the Nature Coast and embraces its rural atmosphere, he said, so this process should be easier.

Commissioners voted unanimously to accept that change to the permit process. The ordinance is up for approval on Tuesday.

"You just made my day,'' Aquilante told the Tampa Bay Times reporter calling last week to talk about backyard chickens. She told stories about how her dogs loved to play with the chickens through the fence, allowing the hens to peck at their noses.

Keeping the chickens was “quite an experience,” she said. Since she started talking about getting some again, she said, "a couple of my friends think I am crazy.''

Since commissioners approved the ordinance in 2013, the county has issued 37 of the five-year backyard chicken permits.

Aquilante said she won’t hesitate to make that 38 if commissioners approve the process change.

Last time, she named her hens after strong women she looked up to.

"Maybe I’m going a little bit on the Southern side this time,'' she said.